IT’S not easy to find Vivion Marlin’s memorial marker on the Seventh Street Bridge. It’s several yards from the nearest vantage point on the east side of the span that crosses Haw Creek running along Central Avenue.
The major distinguishing element is the discoloration of the 87-year-old marker, which is framed inside the 14-year-old concrete of the relatively new bridge. Getting a direct view of the memorial would require climbing the black fence that separates the water and the nearby Cummins Child Care Center. But even that view is partially obscured by a small bush that has grown up in front of the engraving.
In fact, the only thing visible from the other side of the fence is the impression of an arrow pointing to the ground. That arrow tells a story in itself.
It was originally intended to indicate the place where Vivion fell to his death May 9, 1928. In its current location, the arrow is only a few feet above the ground. It was moved in 2001 when the old bridge was demolished and the current structure replaced it.
That the marker didn’t meet the same fate of the original bridge is to the credit of a number of individuals, especially in light of the circumstances surrounding the tragic incident that precipitated it.
Memorial markers of this sort are more commonly associated with major figures or events in a community’s history. Vivion or his death did not fit into either category. For one thing, he was hardly a celebrity and was little known outside his family, friends and co-workers.
In 1928 he was a 60-year-old laborer who worked on a crew that had been contracted to build the bridge. He was a widower whose children had grown into maturity, and he had come to live with one of them at the time work was underway on the project.
On May 9 he was working on a section of the bridge directly above the creek when he fell approximately 15 feet to the shallow waters below. It was a relatively short distance for such a tragedy, but on impact his head struck a can, causing the wound that eventually claimed his life.
His co-workers carried him up an embankment and took him to the family home, which was only a few blocks from the construction site. He died within hours.
The accident was front page news in what was then called The Evening Republican, but it quickly faded from the daily headlines. The incident stuck with his family and co-workers, however. As the bridge neared completion, the workers decided to preserve his memory in a concrete fashion, creating a cement marker that designated his name, date of death and the area where he fell.
That marker remained in place from 1928 to 2001, when Bartholomew County officials authorized construction of a replacement bridge.
It could have easily been demolished along with the rest of the bridge, but fortunately the then Bartholomew County engineer, Charlie Day, and officials of the consulting firm SIECO had an appreciation for history. They saw to it that the marker was carefully extracted from the framework during the demolition. As it neared completion, its 21st-century builders carefully placed it into the new bridge.
From a historical perspective, the current location of the marker is inaccurate. Due to the bridge’s design, it was necessary to place the marker at a point many yards distant from the place where Vivion fell to his death.
Regardless of the inaccuracy, the important element to this story is the motivation that caused bridge workers almost a century ago to put the marker in place in honor of their friend and their counterparts decades later to make sure it was preserved.
There’s a certain sadness about the fact that today it is so inaccessible and is partially hidden by nature, but in the end those considerations are outweighed by the fact that it is still there.
Harry McCawley is the former associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached at [email protected].